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The Secret to Innovation? Tinkering

The Secret to Innovation? Tinkering

September 27, 2010

Some of the most innovative ideas come about by tinkering with other ideas that we've inherited or stumbled upon. The lesson? Simply by tinkering with what you have can yield dramatic turnarounds.

I received an interesting article from one of my colleagues over the weekend about the secret to innovation.

What was so interesting is that some of the most practical, innovative products come about simply by combining odds and ends ' by tinkering.

And it got me thinking about some of the innovations we've put in place for our clients that have helped them turn around their companies.

So many clients come to us thinking that they need a major overhaul of how they run their business and they get so hung up on trying to make big, dramatic changes on their own that result in more chaos.

However, in many cases all that's needed right away is just a little bit of tinkering such as repositioning a product to make it more appealing to prospects, creating new pricing structures, adding incentives, rebranding a website or just tweaking an offer.
Simply by tinkering with what you already have, you can usually create immediate results to begin a turnaround.

Of course, it's sometimes difficult to see how to get out of a storm when the floodwaters are rising all around you. But with just a little creative thinking and an openness to new ideas great change can come about.

Author Steve Johnson says the ideas are works of 'bricolage' ' taking ideas we've inherited or stumbled across and we jigger them together into some new shape. He cites several terrific examples in an adaptation of his essay, 'Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation' that's due to be released October 5.

Turning broken life-saving hospital devices into functioning equipment

The most dramatic example involves neonatal incubators sent to the Indonesian city Meulaboh following the 2004 tsunami. Eight neonatal incubators were sent by international relief organizations and all are eight were inoperable several years later.

An MIT fellow , Timothy Prestero, noticed this while visiting a hospital and learned that the incubators were made up of parts that were either too expensive or not available in Indonesia.

So he went about tinkering with the incubators at an organization he cofounded, Design That Matters, to create devices for third world countries using auto parts such as headlights, dashboard fans and door chimes to sound alarms. He didn't create an entirely new incubator. He simply took other ideas to create an inexpensive device using available parts that hospitals could readily use and fix knowing nothing more than basic auto repair.

Is he a genius? Maybe. He is a fellow at MIT! But that's how innovation often comes about. We take ideas, play with them and create new breakthroughs.

The other secret to innovation ... collaboration

But that doesn't happen behind a closed door either. We're seeing more and more companies opening their doors that typically hold intellectual capital and not worrying about patent protections. Terms such as 'open source,' 'freeware,' 'crowdsourcing' and 'collaboration' are becoming more common as more companies see the benefit of working with others to make their products even better than they could have envisioned.

Nike, for instance, launched GreenXchange, a web-based marketplace where companies such as Yahoo, Best Buy, IDEO, salesforce.com and others share intellectual property as part of a think tank to reduce their environmental impact and increase corporate sustainability. Walmart recently launched a similar consortium with other companies, non-profit and educational institutions.

Great ideas don't just happen. They often come about by working together, building on other ideas and tinkering with what you have available.

To read Johnson's essay adaptation from the Wall Street Journal, click here.

And to learn more about how we can help tinker with your next great innovation, give me a call toll-free at 800-805-1220.

Always taking you from where you are to where you want to go.

Jon

Jon Goldman
Brand Launcher
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